Mentally slow poision


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Mentally slow poision

  1. 1. Slow PoisonAlice Duer Miller
  2. 2. Slow Poison by Alice Duer Miller This eBook is the property of RFL Software, Inc.RFL Software, Inc created this eBook. It is made available to you for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not sell or in any way distribute the eBook to others without the written permission of RFL Software, Inc. If you enjoyed reading this eBook, we ask that you mail a $1.00 contribution to: RFL Software, Inc. P.O. Box 6104 Diamondhead, MS 39525 USA Visit our WEB site at:
  3. 3. Slow Poison The Chelmsford divorce had been accomplished with the utmostdecorum, not only outwardly in the newspapers, but inwardly among agroup of intimate friends. They were a homogeneous couple--were liked bythe same people, enjoyed the same things, and held many friends incommon. These were able to say with some approach to certainty thateveryone had behaved splendidly, even the infant of twenty-three withwhom Julian had fallen in love. Of course there will always be the question--and we used to argue it oftenin those days--how well a man can behave who, after fifteen perfectlysatisfactory years of married life, admits that he has fallen in love withanother woman. But if you believe in the clap-of-thunder theory, as I do,why, then, for a man nearing forty, taken off his feet by a blond-headed girl,Julian, too, behaved admirably. As for Mrs. Julian, there was never any doubt as to her conduct. I used tothink her--and I was not alone in the opinion--the most perfect combinationof gentleness and power, and charity and humour, that I had ever seen. Shewas a year or so older than Julian--though she did not look it--and a gooddeal wiser, especially in the ways of the world; and, oddly enough, one ofthe features that worried us most in the whole situation was how he wasever going to get on, in the worldly sense, without her. He was to suffer notonly from the loss of her counsel but from the lack of her indorsement.There are certain women who are a form of insurance to a man; and Annegave a poise and solidity to Julians presentation of himself which his ownflibbertigibbet manner made particularly necessary. I think this view of the matter disturbed Anne herself, though she was tooclever to say so; or perhaps too numbed by the utter wreck of her own lifeto see as clearly as usual the rocks ahead of Julian. It was she, I believe,who first mentioned, who first thought of divorce, and certainly she whoarranged the details. Julian, still in the more ideal stage of his emotion, hadhardly wakened to the fact that his new love was marriageable. But Mrs. RFL Software, Inc. Page 3 of 15
  4. 4. Julian, with the practical eye of her sex, saw in a flash all it might mean tohim, at his age, to begin life again with a young beauty who adored him. She saw this, at least, as soon as she saw anything; for Julian, like most ofus when the occasion rises, developed a very pretty power of concealment.He had for a month been seeing Miss Littell every day before any of usknew that he went to see her at all. Certainly Anne, unsuspicious by nature,was unprepared for the revelation. It took place in the utterly futile, unnecessary way such revelationsalways do take place. The two poor innocent dears had allowed themselvesa single indiscretion; they had gone out together, a few days beforeChristmas, to buy some small gifts for each other. They had had anadventure with a beggar, an old man wise enough to take advantage of theholiday season, and the no less obvious holiday in the hearts of this pair. Hehad forced them to listen to some quaint variant of the old story, and theyhad between them given him all the small change they had left--sixty-sevencents, I think it was. That evening at dinner Julian, ever so slightly afraid of the long pause,had told Anne the story as if it had happened to him alone. A few daysafterward the girl, whom she happened to meet somewhere or other,displaying perhaps a similar nervousness, told the same story. Even thenumber of cents agreed. I spoke a moment ago of the extraordinary power of concealment whichwe all possess; but I should have said the negative power to avoid excitingsuspicion. Before that moment, before the finger points at us, the fool candeceive the sage; and afterward not even the sage can deceive the veriestfool. Julian had no desire to lie to his wife. Indeed, he told me he had felt fromthe first that she would be his fittest confidante. He immediately told hereverything--a dream rather than a narrative. Nowhere did Anne show her magnanimity more than in accepting therather extravagant financial arrangements which Julian insisted on makingfor her. He was not a rich man, and she the better economist of the two. Weknew she saw that in popular esteem Julian would pay the price of her prideif she refused, and that in this ticklish moment of his life the least she could RFL Software, Inc. Page 4 of 15
  5. 5. do was to let him have the full credit for his generosity. "And after all," as she said to me, "young love can afford to go without agood many things necessary to old age." It was the nearest I heard her come to a complaint. As soon as everything was settled she sailed for Florence, where she hadfriends and where, she intimated, she meant to spend most of her time. I said good-by to her with real emotion, and the phrase I used as to mywish to serve her was anything but a convention. Nor did she take it so. "Help Julian through this next year," she said. "People will take it harderthan he knows. Hell need you all." And she was kind enough to addsomething about my tact. Poor lady! She must have mentally withdrawn herlittle compliment before we met many times again. II Perhaps the only fault in Annes education of her husband had been herinability to cling. In his new menage this error was rectified, and the effecton him was conspicuously good; in fact, I think Roses confidence in hisgreatness pulled them through the difficult time. For there was no denying that it was difficult. Many people looked coldlyon them, and I know there was even some talk of asking him to resign fromthe firm of architects of which he was a member. The other men were allolder, and very conservative. Julian represented to them everything that wasmodern and dangerous. Granger, the leading spirit, was in the habit ofdescribing himself as holding old-fashioned views, by which he meant thathe had all the virtues of the Pilgrim Fathers and none of their defects. Inever liked him, but I could not help respecting him. The worst you couldsay of him was that his high standards were always successful. You felt that so fanatical a sense of duty ought to have required some RFL Software, Inc. Page 5 of 15
  6. 6. sacrifices. To such a man Julians conduct appeared not only immoral butinadvisable, and unfitting in a young man, especially without consulting hissenior partners. We used to say among ourselves that Grangers reason for wanting to getrid of Julian was not any real affection for the dim old moral code, butrather his acute realization that without Anne his junior partner was a lessvaluable asset. Things were still hanging fire when I paid her the first of my annualvisits. She was dreadfully distressed at my account of the situation. She hadthe manner one sometimes sees in dismissed nurses who meet their formerlittle charges unwashed or uncared for. She could hardly believe it was nolonger her business to put the whole matter right. "Cant she do something for him?" she said. "Make her bring him a greatbuilding. That would save him." It was this message that I carried home to Rose; at least I suggested theidea to her as if it were my own. I had my doubts of her being able to carryit out. Out of loyalty to Julian, or perhaps I ought to say out of loyalty to Anne,we had all accepted Rose, but we should soon have loved her in any case.She was extraordinarily sweet and docile, and gave us, those at least whowere not parents, our first window to the east, our first link with the nextgeneration, just at the moment when we were relinquishing the titleourselves. I am afraid that some of the males among us envied Julian morethan perhaps in the old days we had ever envied him Anne. But we hardly expected her to further his career as Anne had done, andyet, oddly enough, that was exactly what she did. Her methods had all theeffectiveness of youth and complete conviction. She forced Julian on herfriends and relations, not so much on his account as on theirs. She wantedthem to be sure of the best. The result was that orders flowed in. Thingstook a turn for the better and continued to improve, as I was able to report toAnne when I went to see her at Florence or at Paris. She was always welllodged, well served, and surrounded by the pleasantest people, yet each time RFL Software, Inc. Page 6 of 15
  7. 7. I saw her she had a look exiled and circumscribed, a look I can onlydescribe as that of a spirit in reduced circumstances. She was always avid for details of Julian and all that concerned him, andas times improved I was stupid enough to suppose I pleased her by givingthem from the most favourable angle. It seemed to me quite obvious, as Isaw how utterly she had ruined her own life, that she ought at least to havethe comfort of knowing that she had not sacrificed it in vain. And so Iallowed myself, not an exaggeration but a candour more unrestrained thanwould be usual in the circumstances. Led on by her burning interest I told her many things I might much betterhave kept to myself; not only accounts of his work and his household andany new friends in our old circle, but we had all been amazed to see a senseof responsibility develop in Julian in answer to his new wifes dependenceon him. With this had come a certain thoughtfulness in small attentions,which, I saw too late, Anne must always have missed in him. She was somuch more competent in the smaller achievements of life than he that it hadbeen wisdom to leave them to her; and Anne had often traveled alone andattended to the luggage, when now Rose was personally conducted like ayoung empress. The explanation was simple enough: Anne had the ability todo it, and the other had not. Even if I had stopped to think, I might fairlyhave supposed that Anne would find some flattery in the contrast. I shouldhave been wrong. Almost the first thing she asked me was whether he came home toluncheon. In old times, though his house was only a few blocks from hisoffice, he had always insisted that it took too much time. Anne had nevergained her point with him, though she put some force into the effort. Now Ihad to confess he did. "Its much better for him," she said with pleasure, and quite deceived me;herself, too, perhaps. Yet even I, for all my blindness, felt some uneasiness the year Roses sonwas born. I do not think the desire for offspring had ever taken up a greatdeal of room in Julians consciousness, but of course Anne had wantedchildren, and I felt very cruel, sitting in her little apartment in Paris,describing the baby who ought to have been hers. How different her RFL Software, Inc. Page 7 of 15
  8. 8. position would have been now if she had some thin-legged little girl toeducate or some raw-boned boy to worry over; and there was thatoverblessed woman at home, necessary not only to Julian but to Juliansson. It was this same year, but at a later visit, that I first became aware of achange in Anne. At first the charm of her surroundings, her pretty clothes,even to the bright little buckles on her shoes, blinded me to the fact that sheherself was changed. I do not mean that she was aged. One of the delightfulthings about her was that she was obviously going to make an admirable oldlady; the delicate boniness of her face and the clearness of her skin assuredthat. This was a change more fundamental. Even in her most distracted daysAnne had always maintained a certain steadiness of head. She had troddenthorny paths, but she had always known where she was going. I had seenher eyelids red, but I had never failed to find in the eyes themselves thepromise of a purpose. But now it was gone. I felt as if I were looking into alittle pool which had been troubled by a stone, and I waiting vainly for thereflection to re-form itself. So painful was the impression that before I sailed for home I tried toconvey to her the dangers of her mood. "I think you are advising me to be happy," she said. "I am advising no such thing," I answered. "I am merely pointing out thatyou run the risk of being more unhappy than you are. My visits--or ratherthe news I bring you--are too important to you. You make me feel as if itwere the only event of the year--to you who have always had such aninteresting life of your own." "I have not had a life of my own since I was twenty," she returned. It wasat twenty she had married. "Then think of Julian," I said, annoyed not only at my own clumsiness butat the absence of anything of Annes old heroic spirit. "For his sake, at least,you must keep your head. Why, my dear woman, one look at your face,grown as desperate as it sometimes appears now, would ruin Julian with thewhole world. Even I, knowing the whole story, would find it hard to forgivehim if you should fail to continue to be the splendid triumphant creaturewhom we know you were designed to be." RFL Software, Inc. Page 8 of 15
  9. 9. She gave me a long queer look, which meant something tremendous.Evidently my words had made an impression. They had, but not just the one I intended. III One of the first people I always saw on returning was Julian. How oftenhe thought of Anne I do not know, but he spoke of her with the greatesteffort. He invariably took care to assure himself that she was physicallywell, but beyond this it would have been a brave person who dared to go.He did not want to hear the details of her life and appearance. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that a few months after this Icame to tell him that Anne was about to return to America. Why she wascoming, or for how long, her letter did not say. I only knew that the secondSaturday in December would see her among us again. It seemed fair toassume that her stay would not be long. Julian evidently thought so for hearranged to be in the West for three or four weeks. I went to meet her. The day was cold and rainy, and as soon as I saw her Imade up my mind that the crossing had been a bad one, and I was glad noone else had come to the wharf with me. She was standing by the rail,wrapped in a voluminous fur coat--the fashions were slim in the extreme--and her hat was tied on by a blue veil. I may as well admit that from the moment I heard of her projected return Ifeared that her real motive for coming, conscious or unconscious, was to seeJulian again. So when I told her of his absence I was immensely relievedthat she took it as a matter of course. "I suppose we might have met," she observed. "As it is, I can go aboutwithout any fear of an awkward encounter." I say I was relieved, but I wasalso excessively puzzled. Why had Anne come home? It was a question I was to hear answered in a variety of ways during thenext few months, by many of Annes friends and partisans; for, as I think I RFL Software, Inc. Page 9 of 15
  10. 10. have said, Anne had inspired great attachment since her earliest days. Whyhad she come home? they exclaimed. Why not, pray? Had she doneanything criminal that she was to be exiled? Did I think it pleasant to liveabroad on a small income? Even if she could get on without her friends,could they do without her? The tone of these questions annoyed me not a little when I heard them,which was not for some time. Soon after Annes arrival I, too, was calledaway, and it was not until February that I returned and was met by thecarefully set piece--Anne the Victim. With that ill-advised self-confidence of which I have already mademention, I at once set about demolishing this picture. I told Annes friends,who were also mine, that she would thank them very little for their attitude.I found myself painting her life abroad as a delirium of intellect and luxury.I even found myself betraying professional secrets and arguing with totalstrangers as to the amount of her income. Even in Montreal faint echoes of this state of things had reached me, butnot until I went to see Anne on my return did I get any idea of their cause.She had taken a furnished apartment from a friend, in a dreary building inone of the West Forties. Only a jutting front of limestone and an elevatorman in uniform saved it, or so it seemed to me, from being an old-fashionedboarding house. Its windows, small, as if designed for an African sun,looked northward upon a darkened street. Annes apartment was on thesecond floor, and the requirements of some caryatids on the outsiderendered her fenestration particularly meager. Her friend, if indeed it were afriend, had not treated her generously in the matter of furniture. She had leftnothing superfluous but two green glass jugs on the mantelpiece, and hadcovered the chairs with a chintz, the groundwork of which was mustardcolour. Another man who was there when I came in, who evidently had knownAnne in different surroundings, expressed the most hopeful view possiblewhen he said that doubtless it would all look charming when she hadarranged her own belongings. Anne made a little gesture. "I havent any belongings," she said. I didnt know what she meant, perhaps merely a protest against the RFL Software, Inc. Page 10 of 15
  11. 11. tyranny of things, but I saw the effect her speech produced on her auditor.Perhaps she saw it too, for presently she added: "Oh, yes! I have one." And she went away, and came back carrying a beautiful old silver lovingcup. I knew it well. It came from Julians forebears. Anne had always lovedit, and I was delighted that she should have it now. She set it on a tablebefore a mirror, and here it did a double share to make the room possible. When we were alone I expressed my opinion of her choice of lodgings. "This sunless cavern!" I said. "This parlour-car furniture!" She looked a little hurt. "You dont like it?" she said. "Do you?" I snapped back. After a time I had recourse to the old argument that it didnt look well;that it wasnt fair to Julian. But she had been expecting this. "My dear Walter," she answered, "you must try to be more consistent. InParis you told me that I must cease to regulate my life by Julian. You werequite right. This place pleases me, and I dont intend to go to a hotel, whichI hate, or to take a house, which is a bother, in order to soothe Juliansfeelings. I have begun to lead my life to suit myself." The worst of it was, I could think of no answer. A few evenings afterward we dined at the same house. Anne arrived witha scarf on her head, under the escort of a maid. She had come in a trolleycar. Nobodys business but her own, perhaps, if she would have allowed it toremain so, but when she got up to go, and other people were talking of theirmotors being late, Anne had to say: "Mine is never late; it goes past thecorner every minute." I could almost hear a sigh, "Poor angel!" go round the room. The next thing that happened was that Julian sent for me. He was in whatwe used to call in the nursery "a state." "Whats this I hear about Annes being hard up?" he said. "Living in anasty flat, and going out to dinner in the cars?" And he wouldnt listen to anexplanation. "She must take more; she must be made to take more." RFL Software, Inc. Page 11 of 15
  12. 12. I had one of my most unfortunate inspirations. I thought I saw anopportunity for Julian to make an impression. "I dont think she would listen to me," I said. "Why dont you get Mr.Granger to speak to her?" The idea appealed to Julian. He admired Mr. Granger, and rememberedthat he and Anne had been friends. Whereas I thought, of course, that Mr.Granger would thus be made to see that the fault, if there were a fault, wasnot of Julians generosity. Stupidly enough I failed to see that if Juliansoffer was graceful Annes gesture of refusal would be upon a splendid scale. And it must have been very large, indeed, to stir old Granger as it did. Hetold me there had been tears in his eyes while she spoke of her husbandskindness. Kindness! He could not but compare her surroundings with thelittle house, all geraniums and muslin curtains, in which the new Mrs.Chelmsford was lodged. Anne had refused, of course. In the circumstancesshe could not accept. She said she had quite enough for a single woman.The phrase struck Granger as almost unbearably pathetic. One day I noticed the loving cup--which was always on Annes table,which was admired by everyone who came to the apartment, and was saidto recall her, herself, so pure and graceful and perfect--one day the lovingcup was gone. I was so surprised when my eye fell on its vacant place that I blurted out:"Goodness, Anne, wheres your cup?" The next moment I could have bitten out my tongue. Anne stood still inthe middle of the room, twisting her hands a little, and everyone--there werethree or four of us there--stopped talking. "Oh," she said, "oh, Walter, I know youll scold me for being officious andwrong-headed, but I have sent the cup back to Julians son. I think he oughtto have it." Everyone else thought the deed extremely noble. I took my hat and wentto Rose. Rose was not very enthusiastic. A beautiful letter had accompaniedthe cup. We discussed the advisability of sending it back; but of course thatwould have done no good. The devilish part of a favour is that to accept orreject it is often equally incriminating. Anne held the situation in the hollow RFL Software, Inc. Page 12 of 15
  13. 13. of her hand. Besides, as Rose pointed out, we couldnt very well return itwithout asking Julian, and we had both agreed that for the present Julianhad better remain in ignorance of the incident. He would have thought itmean-spirited to allow any instance of Annes generosity to remainconcealed from the public. Rose and I were willing to allow it to drop. I was sorry, therefore, when I found, soon after, not only that everyoneknew of the gift but that phrases of the beautiful letter itself were current,with marks of authenticity upon them. It was not hard to trace them toAnnes intimates. I have no idea to this day whether Anne was deliberately trying to ruin theman for whom she had sacrificed so much; or whether one of those large,unconscious, self-indulgent movements of our natures was carrying heralong the line of least resistance. There are some people, I know, who canbehave well only so long as they have the centre of the stage, and are drivenby a necessity almost moral to regain such a place at any cost, so that theymay once again begin the exercise of their virtues. Annes performance was too perfect, I thought, for conscious art, and shewas not a genius. She was that most dangerous of all engines, a good personbehaving wickedly. All her past of high-mindedness and kindness protectedher now like an armour from the smallest suspicion. All the grandeur of herconduct at the time of the divorce was remembered as a proof that she atleast had a noble soul. Who could doubt that she wished him well? If so, she soon appeared to be the only person who did. For, as we allknow, pity is one of the most dangerous passions to unloose. It demands avictim. We rise to pathos, only over the dead bodies of our nearest anddearest. Every phrase, every gesture of Annes stirred one profoundly, and it wasinevitable, I suppose, that Julian should be selected as the sacrifice. Inoticed that people began to speak of him in the past, though he was stillmoving among us--"As Julian used to say." He and Anne fortunately never met, but she and the new Mrs. Julian hadone encounter in public. If even then Anne would have shown the slightestvenom all might still have been well. But, no, the worn, elderly woman,face to face with the young beauty who had possessed herself of everything RFL Software, Inc. Page 13 of 15
  14. 14. in the world, showed nothing but a tenderness so perfect that every heartwas wrung. I heard Rose criticized for not receiving her in the same spirit. The next day Julian was blackballed at a philanthropic club at which hehad allowed himself to be proposed merely from a sense of civic duty. Over the incident I know Anne wept. I heard her tears. "Oh, if I could have spared him that!" she said. My eyes were cold, but those of Mr. Granger, who came in while hereyelids were still red, were full of fire. She spent a week with the Grangers that summer. The whole family--wife, sons and daughters--had all yielded to the great illusion. It must not be supposed that I had failed to warn Julian. The supineness ofhis attitude was one of the most irritating features of the case. He answeredme as if I were violating the dead; asked me if by any chance I didnt see hedeserved all he was getting. No one was surprised when in the autumn he resigned from his firm.There had been friction between the partners for some time. Soon afterwardhe and Rose sailed for Italy, where they have lived ever since. He hadscarcely any income except that which he made in his profession; his capitalhad gone to Anne. He probably thought that what he had would go furtherabroad. I do not know just how Anne took his departure, except that I am sure shewas wonderful about it. I had ceased to see her. She has, however, anynumber of new friends, whose fresh interest in her story keeps it continuallyalive. She has given up her ugly flat and taken a nice little house, and insummer I notice she has red geraniums in the window boxes. I often see anice little motor standing before her door--the result doubtless of a yearseconomy. Whenever her friends congratulate her on the improvement in herfinances she says she owes it all to me--I am such an excellent man ofbusiness. "I admire Walter so much," I am told she says, "though Im afraid I have RFL Software, Inc. Page 14 of 15
  15. 15. lost him as a friend. But then, in the last few years I have lost so much."And she smiles that brave sad smile of hers. The End RFL Software, Inc. Page 15 of 15